Employees need flexible benefits to support changing needs

uploaded on 5 August 2020

Blog -  Employees need flexible benefits to support changing needs

The pandemic has been a universally shared experience that continues to impact us all in different ways. As businesses recover, employee needs are in flux, as work and personal circumstances evolve over the next six months. Employers that are able to offer rapid support to meet those needs will be able to grow a more resilient and loyal workforce. 

In recent weeks it has become apparent that the best laid business recovery plans are still at the mercy of localised spikes. The same rings true for employees’ personal circumstances. Health, wellbeing, finances, access to open schools and childcare can change overnight. The government is asking employers to prepare for a resurgence of the virus in winter.

Against this backdrop, employers need their employees to remain well and firing on all cylinders. How can employer led support be sufficiently flexible to keep pace with employee needs, which can change at remarkable speed, and without placing undue burden on HR and line managers?

1. Audit whether the support you offer aligns with employee needs

Employee benefits are of little value to employees or the organisation as a whole unless they actually meet a defined need. With so many competing priorities, some employers may not have had the time to fully consider whether the benefits they offer are still relevant in the current context. At a time when disposable income will reduce for many employees, it’s critical they do. Otherwise employees will perceive the net worth of their reward package has diminished. Season tickets are a prime example of this. With so many employees likely to work from home until the New Year, a once valued benefit can feel redundant.

Some clients find it helpful to create “employee personas” to consider what support employees are likely to need at different ages and stages of life. We know that many millennials, fed up with working from their bedrooms, in shared accommodation, are keen to return to the office. Statistically they are more likely than any other generation to have experienced a drop in income during lockdown are in greater need of financial support. By contrast, dual income parents may want to continue flexibility in where and when they work to facilitate childcare and spend more time with their family.

2. Anticipate what support employees will need over the next six months

Our own data shows an increased demand for health and wellbeing related benefits including dental, healthcare plans, critical assessment, health assessments, digital GPs and cycle to work. While scientists are racing against the clock to produce a vaccine, employees and employers have a shared interest to stay well. Prevention is easier and less costly than cure.

Physical fitness doesn’t guarantee protection against COVID-19 but we do know that physical fitness boosts immunity and reduces mental stress which can supress our immune systems.

The government is driving a media-led campaign to get the nation to drop at least half a stone before autumn.

Now is a good time for employers to capitalise on the “Joe Wicks”, to nudge employees to keep up the fitness they’ve built over the last four months and do all they can to provide access to affordable exercise. Whether that’s through an online exercise programme, gym membership, or a cycle to work scheme.

Similarly, more employees want health assessments to check they are in the best shape before the traditional cold and flu season. Access to an online doctor means shorter wait times and lower risk of infection from other unwell patients.

Financial fitness is going to be key to managing employee peace of mind with the current state of the economy. Many families will have less disposable income and will appreciate support to better budget, manage finances, and access to affordable loans.

While businesses recover, pay rises are unlikely, but employers can help employees increase the savings they make on everyday items to make their salary go further. An employ may not realise the accumulative saving they can make using a discount card to purchase their weekly food shop, and what this equates to in terms of an annual pay rise, unless this is highlighted by their employer.

3. Keep the window open

For maximum impact, employees need to be able to access the right support, at the right time. This means being able to opt in or out of a benefit as circumstances change. Unless employees can self-service throughout the year, they will likely find themselves without a benefit at the very point they most need it. 

Self-service has the added bonus of taking pressure away from line-managers. They are often the first line of support an employee will go to for help and are well placed to notice when something is amiss with an employee. That said, they are not trained counsellors and an employee may not wish not to share a personal problem with their boss. Self-service enables employees to discretely access EAP or other forms of support they may wish to keep private.

Avoid the temptation to let your current benefits package tick along

As businesses seek to rebuild and increase productivity, it’s tempting to let a benefits review slip down the list of priorities. It’s worth remembering that a well-designed model will be cost generative, as the savings pay for the cost, and serves as a communication platform for the organisation to carry on a more employee-centric culture begun during lockdown or risk appearing insincere. Ultimately a well, happy workforce will be a resilient workforce.

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